Episode 21 - Can We Be Perfect?
Among the ideas that have made Western civilization unique from other civilizations is the notion that humans are limited. From the ancient Greek and Roman philosophies to the Christian and Judaic teachings, Western civilization was the first to draw a stark contrast between what it meant for humans to strive for nobility over fanciful deity. Bob Burch joins Josh once again to discuss this seemingly obvious, but surprisingly nuanced and highly beneficial belief that has been passed down through the centuries.
There’s something hardwired in us to need a vision. Without it runners don’t finish their marathon and managers may fail to develop strategic objectives in accordance with the original mission of their company. We don’t do well as a species left in a bleak reality of mindlessly performing the work assigned to us with no concept of how our work or efforts are somehow contributing to some larger purpose. And what’s true for the vision of an individual or a company is even truer for a political vision on a grander scale.
“We know of no human community whose members do not have a vision of perfection—a vision in which the frustrations inherent in our human condition are annulled and transcended,” wrote journalist Irving Kristol, “The existence of such dreaming visions is not, in itself, a problem. They are, on the contrary, a testament to the creativity of man which flows from the fact that he is a creature uniquely endowed with imaginative powers as an essential aspect of his self-consciousness.” This imaginative envisioning of perfection is part of what makes us human. We don’t merely exist in this reality, we are self-aware of our existence and self-aware of there being something very imperfect with this reality.
There’s hardly any disagreement that there is something fundamentally wrong with things as they stand now. For some that may mean it’s a pity how far of a drive it is to the cleaners while for others it may be a desperate struggle for survival against disease or famine or genocide. Regardless, we all have some sense of the injustice or inconvenience or imperfection or—dare I say—evil present in our reality. And we all have the capacity—even the yearning—to envision a reality made right. A place, or a future, where all things are made new in perfection.
But what’s true of the visualization of individuals or companies is still true of our vision of a perfect reality: this vision must play by the rules. This vision of perfect reality must be anchored in actual reality or it will likely cause us more harm than good.
“Man is not perfectible, but he may achieve a tolerable degree of order, justice, and freedom,” wrote Russell Kirk in his masterpiece The Conservative Mind. “Both the ‘human sciences’ and the humane studies are means for ascertaining the norms of the civil social order, and for informing the statesman and the reflecting public of the possibilities and the limits of social measures.” By working within the reality of our human frailty—as James Madison aimed to do in advocating a limited government—we truly can improve our condition. But it’s when we try to work outside of our limitations that we not only fail to achieve terrestrial heaven, we often end up with terrestrial hell.